Places: Mutiny on the Bounty

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1932

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of work: 1787-1792

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Withycombe

*Withycombe. Mutiny on the BountyVillage in western England’s Somerset district that is the ancestral home of Roger Byam, the novel’s fictional narrator. Writing from Withycombe at age seventy-three, Byam recounts his initiation to life at sea when he was a midshipman on HMS Bounty in the late 1780’s.

*Spithead

*Spithead. British naval base near southern England’s Portsmouth Harbour, where Byam reports for duty aboard the Bounty in 1787. While the ship’s sailing is delayed for a month, Byam becomes acquainted with his shipmates and gets his first taste of the severity of naval discipline when he witnesses a sailor being flogged around the fleet–an incident that foreshadows Captain William Bligh’s severe treatment of the Bounty’s crew.

*HMS <i>Bounty</i>

*HMS Bounty. Historical British warship about half of whose crewmen mutinied on April 28, 1789. With a length of only ninety feet and a displacement of only 215 tons, the Bounty was a cramped vessel for the long mission on which it was sent, and the special provisions made to accommodate the breadfruit plants make conditions for the crew even worse. After the ship goes to sea, Captain Bligh places the men on short, often inedible, rations, has both seamen and officers flogged, and is suspected of stealing from the ship’s stores himself for his own profit. Meanwhile, a rift develops between Bligh and Fletcher Christian, his second-in-command. After suffering the rigors of a long and exhausting voyage, as well as Bligh’s discipline, the crewmen enjoy a long respite on Tahiti–a tropical paradise whose conditions are polar opposites of those aboard the Bounty. However, after the ship departs from the island, Bligh returns to his former autocratic self and even confiscates gifts his men received on Tahiti. After First Mate Christian leads the mutiny, he takes command of the ship and becomes as autocratic as Bligh. Not being one of the mutineers, the narrator Byam is a among a handful of men whom the mutineers return to Tahiti. The later fate of the Bounty is related by a different narrator in the authors’ sequel to this novel, Pitcairn’s Island (1934).

*Tenerriffe

*Tenerriffe. Main port in the Canary Islands, about one hundred miles off the west coast of Africa, where the Bounty stops during its outward voyage. Byam notes that the seeds of discontent that are destined to ruin the voyage are sown here.

*Cape Horn

*Cape Horn. Southern tip of South America, where the Bounty spends thirty days battling gale-force winds and freezing weather, trying unsuccessfully to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. After the seams of the ship nearly give way, Bligh charts a new course for the Cape of Good Hope, to reach Tahiti on an easterly course.

*Cape of Good Hope

*Cape of Good Hope. Headland on the peninsula separating the waters of the Atlantic from those of the Indian Ocean on the southwest coast of South Africa. The Bounty spends thirty-eight days in False Bay, near the cape, having its keel caulked and the damage that its sails and rigging sustained at Cape Horn repaired. From there, the ship sails across the Indian Ocean to Tahiti.

*Tahiti

*Tahiti. Largest island of the Windward group of Society Islands in the central South Pacific. The Bounty reaches Tahiti after having sailed over 27,000 miles during ten months at sea.

For the next six months, its crewmen collect and prepare for transport about one thousand young breadfruit plants. Meanwhile, many crewmen develop amorous relationships with Tahitian women and become spoiled by the island’s easy living and exotic pleasures. Byam describes Tahiti as a “Mohammedan paradise,” on which the British sailors enjoy physical leisure, abundant fresh food, and compliant women. The warmth, beauty, and sensuality of Tahiti make the British seamen resent their miserable existence aboard the Bounty enough for many of them to mutiny.

After the mutiny, Byam is among the loyal crewmen whom the mutineers return to Tahiti, where he marries a local woman and has a daughter. After another British ship forcibly returns him to England, he returns to Tahiti for a final time in 1810, as the captain of his own ship, and finds that the island has been ravaged by war and disease. His wife is dead, and he cannot make himself known to his daughter, so he leaves Tahiti without telling her that he is her father. To him, the beautiful green island is a place filled with ghosts of younger men, and his younger self is one of them.

*HMS <i>Pandora</i>

*HMS Pandora. British frigate on which Byam and the other British sailors left on Tahiti are returned to England. Byam and the other loyal officers are treated like criminals on the voyage and suffer unspeakable cruelties. When the ship sinks after striking a reef in the Great Barrier Reef, the Pandora’s captain delays releasing the prisoners from their irons until the last possible moment, an act that costs the life of Byam’s friend Stewart, who drowns. The captain, Byam, and other survivors patch together three boats and head for distant Timor. Byam eventually reaches England, where he is condemned to be hanged for mutiny but is exonerated at the last minute.

*Tupai

*Tupai. Small island in the Leeward group of Society Islands on which Christian and the other mutineers attempt to establish a settlement. After constantly fending off attacks from islanders, they abandon Tupai to search for an uninhabited island.

BibliographyBone, David W. “The Captain’s Cocoanuts.” The Saturday Review of Literature 9, no. 11 (October 1, 1932): 141, 144. An experienced seaman and writer himself, Bone discusses the accuracy of the authors’ descriptions of the sea and sea life. Also examines how they created characters from reading historical documents.Briand, Paul L., Jr. “Bounty from the Mutiny.” In In Search of Paradise. New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1966. A fascinating look at the collaborators’ writing process, including their extensive research into the historical incident.Hall, James Norman. My Island Home: An Autobiography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1952. Includes the author’s recollections of how the two men came to write Mutiny on the Bounty, how they conducted their research, how they set about fictionalizing the historical material, and how they envisioned that material from the beginning as leading to a trilogy of novels.Roulston, Robert. James Norman Hall. Boston: Twayne, 1978. In the first book-length critical study of Hall’s work, Roulston examines in some detail the Bounty trilogy. He declares the novel a melodrama, perhaps something short of true literature, but finds it to be among the best of the genre.“A Vivid Tale of Maritime Adventure.” The New York Times Book Review, October 16, 1932, 7. A very favorable review of Mutiny on the Bounty as a model of the historical novel. Gives useful background information about the historical basis for the events detailed in the novel.
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